Last Wednesday, I realized I had owned my dog, Dru, for four years to the day.
Then Friday night, August 29th, 2008, as I was playing with Dru, I held up a treat for her to reach by standing on her hind legs. She only stood up about half as high and for half as long as usual. My first thought was, “Did my dog’s warranty run out?” The thought that followed was a vague concern that my four-and-a-half year old dog was starting to develop hip dysplasia and I should get her more hip-helping treats.
On Saturday, I took Dru to a nearby playground behind a school. This is a pretty fancy high-tech playground – everything looks like a kid-size version of a Playskool toyset for Li’l People. AND instead of the super safe sand or gravel that I seem to recall lined the grounds of my childhood’s playgrounds, this one’s foundation is made up of one-foot-square black tiles of… Nerf? Supernerf? Something that’s like Nerf but a little bit like blacktop tar at the same time. It’s bouncy. When my dog runs across it, she looks like she’s bounding.
One of the things I do with her at playgrounds is take her up onto the weird structures so she gets used to walking over various surfaces and rope bridges and heights. This time, I had her stay on this one platform about three feet off the ground while I jumped down onto the bouncy ground. Then, I called for her to jump to me. She tilted her head back and forth and didn’t jump. I thought maybe she didn’t understand and so I stepped back a little and crouched down with my arms open wide (a standard come-to-me pose for dog training) and sure enough she jumped down.
Onto her head! I didn’t see that coming. She’s always been very athletic as a pit bull mix and so if I’d predicted any craziness, I might have predicted her jumping onto MY head. But no: she face planted and then rolled over and then bounced back into the upright position.
I immediately shot forward to hold her and inspect her all over for bruising or bumps or for indications she had bitten her own tongue or any body parts that seemed tender or out of place… She seemed perfectly fine. I had just taken her into the vet for a drop-off visit a couple weeks previous for her yearly comprehensive physical and she’d passed with flying colors. At this point, she still seemed fine. As a rare treat for her, I let her go completely off leash at which point she started running around the Nerf-ground. And then around the grass that was around the Supernerf. Now, I don’t speak fluent Doginese but I think I heard, “Wheeeeeeeeeee! burp.” She seemed fine.
Sunday, I played with her around the house and she still wouldn’t stand up very high so I bought her some hip treats. When I took her for a long walk, I noticed that she was starting to drift from side to side while walking – more than usual. But I figured she was just tired from all the exercise I was giving her.
Monday was a holiday, so I got to play with Dru some more but now I noticed that when I would hold up a hip-helping treat for her, she would try to stand and then when she landed on the ground, one or the other of her back legs would flail out as if she’d got a cramp there. Once again, I physically palpated the area, tried stretching out her limbs here and there – no problems and no reactions. Well, lots of licking of my face while I was trying to concentrate, but no pain reactions. That evening, I started to notice that her head was becoming very tilted to one side and when I took her for a drive, she was awkward in both jumping into and out of my car.
At this point, I grew concerned that maybe she was having neurological problems and so I tried some sensitivity tests around her body (pinches) while keeping her attention forward with some really delicious treats. She felt all the pinches, showed no tenderness. I tried some flinch reactions toward her eyes and noticed that her right eye seemed normally responsive but her left eye seemed not to flinch unless my finger practically touched it. This day, she was also lethargic and seemed to want to sleep more than usual. I let her.
The next morning, I took her into work with me to keep an eye on her. This was yesterday. Sure enough, she still had problems getting into and out of my car. And at work, we walk down a long narrow hallway and her head was pronouncedly tilted to one side and she kept bumping into either the hallway or me.
I called for a vet visit. I have an appointment there this morning.
Last night, I did the doggie-equivalent of looking up her symptoms on webMD.com (it was more like dogmd, but called something cuter) and found lots of results for “vestibular signs” that point to bad news. It could just be a minor inner ear infection. It could be brain cancer. A couple of places were careful to point out that the most common version of “canine vestibular disease” is the ideopathic variety which often clears up quickly. Labeling something as ‘ideopathic’ just labels the medical practitioners as idiotic because it just means ‘we have no idea why this happens’ but sounds cooler than ‘mysterious’… “Sorry, Mr. Roth, but your dog has Mysterious Inner Ear Curse. Have you tried a gypsy?”
Anyway, I’m going to go into the vet today and hope that they find… I don’t know… a piece of dog biscuit stuck in her ear? Something simple that won’t require bajillions of dollars of surgery and medicine but will actually fix her.
I hope Dru’s okay.